Chances are you have heard of mindfulness and chances are you know it's good for you — for your mental well-being, your physical health — that it's a good de-stressor. But, quite how to achieve it is something else.
The meditation gurus will tell you that being mindful demands that you pay attention to the present moment with an open, non-judging and compassionate awareness; sounds simple. And, research on the technique shows that it can significantly reduce anxiety, stress, the recurrence of depression and pain perception and that it can help reduce the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. So, where is the downside, or is not there one?
Well, put bluntly, it's not what the human brain evolved to do. Rock bottom, our brains are built for survival on the savanna, which involves problem-solving and steering clear of danger. This means that our minds detect negative information faster than positive, and that we have a tendency to ruminate over past problems, and stress over possible future ones. On the upside, however, a primitive lifestyle had a reasonable amount of down-time built into it, allowing the body's natural relaxation response to act as a counterpart to the brain's instinct to be on the alert for danger and difficulty.
This is something that our contemporary 24/7 on-the-go society has forfeited. Mindfulness is, therefore, something that needs to be cultured and practiced. If done daily, benefits typically begin to show after only eight weeks. And those benefits are significant because they encompass a wide range of skills fundamental to happiness; skills such as empathy, communication, and relationship, focused attention, and fear modulation.
To have something out there that gives us more satisfying friendships, improves our concentration, gives us a sense of peace and calm, and is actually good for our mental and physical health, has to be a winner.
Mindfulness is a wonderful technique. In the therapeutic circles, it is very much in fashion, and an intense amount of research has been done on it, showing that regular practice significantly reduces fatigue and depression, hypertension, stress and anxiety, the perception of pain, fear and anger; and that it also significantly increases a sense of both physical and psychological well-being, sense of oneness and connection, empathy, focus and concentration, and improves the quality of our relationships.
Consciously developing these habits, and consciously expressing and directing them towards ourselves as well as others, can greatly improve our mindfulness practice.